£29M black hole shock

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DONCASTER Council is facing a £29 million cash black hole next year - and will need to make savings totalling £118 million over the next five years.

The shock figures paint a dark picture for the future of services and jobs at the authority - on top of huge cuts and redundancy programmes already inflicted over the last 12 months.

Union chiefs have already voiced concerns over the severity of cuts, with fears the cash shortage could have a knock-on effect in the town for years to come.

The announcement comes after the council’s cabinet met to discuss its plans for the next financial year in light of the latest government spending cuts.

The council has confirmed it currently faces a funding gap of at least £29m in 2013/14 - and that balancing the books next year will be even harder because there are fewer options left following previous cuts.

Hundreds of council workers have already lost their jobs as Doncaster Council faces having to make savings of £118m between 2012 and 2017.

The £29m shortfall is a £12m increase on the authority’s previous estimate on the savings it would be forced to make following changes to government funding as well as changes to business rates and council tax.

Coun Paul Coddington, cabinet member for finance, said: “This is going to be very difficult going forward.

“Our goalposts have to constantly change and, like most councils, this is bound to have a knock-on effect for our services and employees.

“We will do our utmost to protect those services that have the biggest impact for our most vulnerable residents.”

Council officers are planning now for the £29m of savings in 2013/14 which will be discussed and evaluated over the coming weeks and will form part of Mayor Peter Davies’ budget proposals early next year.

The Government is due to make its Autumn Statement on December 5 and, with the continuation of weak economic performance, it is expected there will be further spending cuts in 2013/14 and 2014/15 having a further impact on public services.

Talks will be held between senior council officials before a final budget is set in the spring.

In February this year the authority announced 350 redundancies and £30m of cuts with union bosses fearing a third of staff from the council’s 6,500 strong workforce could be axed to save further costs.

The breakdown of the figures makes for a grim forecast - although the amount needed to be saved in the years ahead shows a decrease each financial year.

In 2012/13 the figure is £30m, dropping to £29m in 2013/14, £25m in 2014/15, £18m in 2015/16 and £16m in 2016/17 - a total of £118m.

Sean MacMillan, assistant branch secretary of Doncaster Unison, said: “Following repeated assurances that frontline services will be protected, the scale of these cuts make such assurances meaningless.

“Doncaster Council has already informed us that entire departments and services will simply be deleted regardless of the impact on the residents of Doncaster.

“This situation is compounded by the fact the Government’s autumn statement will not be made until December 5 and the budget must be set by February 20.

“This will mean there will be little or no assessment of the impact of the cuts on service delivery.

“The Government-imposed cuts to local authorities’ revenues will have a devastating impact on our members and the services they provide to the community.

“The decisions the local authority makes in haste the people of Doncaster will suffer for many years to come.”

Mr MacMillan added: “Given the crisis facing services across the authority and Children’s Services in particular, further reductions on budgets will bring about the real prospect of the collapse of Local Government in the near future.

“These cuts are so severe the jobs that are being cut are frontline essential jobs and not ‘non-jobs’ as the Government would have us believe. The impact on places like Doncaster will be utterly catastrophic.”